Planned road up Everest faces hurdles

LHASA, China: Environmental experts must conduct a study and give their approval before workers can build a planned paved road up to the Mount Everest base camp, a Tibet government official said Saturday.

The $20 million project - a showcase for the 2008 Olympic torch relay - was to have turned a 67-mile, or 108-kilometer, stone-and-dirt path into a blacktop highway that snaked from the foot of the mountain to a base camp at 17,060 feet, or 5,200 meters.

But some activists have expressed concern about the road's environmental impact on the region, where global warming is causing glacial retreat.

"We'll have to get the environmental specialists' analysis. After the analysis we will need to seek the approval of the authorities of the nature reserve of Mount Qomolangma," said Hao Peng, a vice chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region, using the Chinese name for Mount Everest.

Hao said it was not clear when a final decision on the road would be made. Workers were now repairing the existing road, and later an environmental impact assessment will be done, he said.

"Environmental protection authorities always have the right to veto this kind of project," said Nima Ciren, another vice chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The new highway was to be a major route for tourists and mountaineers, and officials have praised it as a way to make life easier for locals.

In April, organizers for the Beijing Summer Olympics announced ambitious plans for the longest torch relay in Olympic history - an 85,000-mile, 130-day route that would cross five continents and reach the 29,035-foot summit of Everest, the world's highest peak.

China says it has ruled Tibet for centuries, although many Tibetans say their homeland was essentially an independent state for most of that time. Chinese communist troops occupied Tibet in 1951, and Beijing continues to rule the region with a heavy hand.

China open to Dalai Lama talks

Chinese officials said the door for talks with the Dalai Lama remained open, after another round of dialogue with envoys of the Tibetan spiritual leader failed to produce a breakthrough, Reuters reported from Lhasa.

But Nima Ciren, a vice chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region, insisted the Dalai Lama would first have to recognize that Tibet was part of China.

"There have been 20 groups of people coming to Tibet or the Tibet region for talks ever since 1979, including Dalai Lama's brother, sister and some of his close aides," Nima said.

"I can say the channel for talks with Dalai Lama is wide open."

But he added: "It all depends on Dalai Lama's attitudes, whether he is willing to give up seeking Tibetan independence, whether he is ready to end his acts of sabotage."

SOLUS: Hoedl's Haven